Representative Rhonda Fields is out to put a positive face on the youth of Aurora.
After hosting the first Teens Turning Political Summit at the Community College of Aurora earlier this month, Fields and her team have created a teen advisory council, composed of eighteen students who attended the summit.
The members of the council, which will have its first meeting next week, are charged with identifying a service project they want to accomplish before school resumes in August.
But that shouldn't be tough, because the summit was inspired by students who approached Fields after taking action at Hinkley High School. "They had a sit-in because the school was talking about doing some reductions due to budget cuts," Fields recalls. "So some of the teachers were going to be impacted." Specifically, Hinkley teachers Thomas Bergen, Brian Clark and Daniel Stone were recommended for non-renewal.
More than a hundred students joined in the April sit-in and protests outside of the school, despite being threatened with suspensions for participating. "We held the sit-in after talking to administration and not being listened to," explains sixteen-year-old Scarlett Jimenez, who helped plan the protests with other students who felt their complaints about the impending layoffs fell on deaf ears. "We just weren't going to have it." Despite the students' actions, the teachers were let go.
After talking with the Hinkley students, Fields decided to organize and sponsor the Teens Turning Political Summit, and asked other students, schools and organizations in Aurora to participate. At the day-long event, students were given the chance to share their views about Aurora and the state and taught several ways to get their voices heard, with lessons on lobbying, grassroots campaigns and leadership roles.
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Todd Mata, chairman of the Arapahoe County Democrats, was there. "You want to show folks that there is a structure to accomplishing your goals and objectives," he says, "whether that is a community leader or an outstanding representative like Rhonda Fields or whatever role you want to play in the community. We need leaders." The ACD is creating a youth leadership task force to help show students how to assume leadership roles and become advocates for their communities. Those interested can sign up at www.arapahoedems.org.
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Fields interacted with students throughout the summit and then offered the closing words. She says it's important to host events like this to make sure youth know they can create change. "It's a generation that we need to tack into," she says. "Because a lot of the decisions that I'm making as a legislator are going to impact them. It's going to impact my kids, my grandchildren. I want to make sure I'm doing things that are going to impact them in a positive way."
Fields had a passion for family and education long before she became a legislator. Her 22-year-old son, Javan Marshall Fields, and his girlfriend, Vivian Wolfe, were gunned down in their car at an Aurora intersection in 2005, during a period when he was set to testify as a witness at a murder trial. After that, then-Governor Bill Ritter appointed Fields to the Colorado Commission on Juvenile Justice; she was also appointed to the Safe2Tell board and is the board president of Voices of Victims. When former District 42 representative Karen Middleton decided not to run for re-election, she recommended that Fields try for the seat. She did, and won in November 2010.
Fields is already planning next summer's summit. She wants to have students take pictures of areas in Aurora that concern them; after that, they'll present the photos to Aurora officials and state legislators and inform them of the changes they'd like to see in their city.
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